Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

The Generalate


When Ignatius became general over a Society which was rapidly increasing, and spreading throughout the Catholic world, a great change came over the exterior of his life. No more journeys, nor missions, nor large-scale work for souls: he was now tied to Rome, to audiences with envoys and officials of every class, to routine work of every sort, and to an immense correspondence. Of this correspondence a great deal is extant and much, that is over 15,000 pieces, is already printed. The smaller half of this great number consists of his letters, instructions and proposals, and all but a few score are connected with his new office. Of the published correspondence, letters, reports and papers sent in to him are even more numerous than the missives; and there are probably many not yet discovered. It is not possible to make in this place any but the most wide, general appreciation of this great body of evidence.

Of course the change is in some ways a disadvantage for the biographer. It is far simpler and easier to imagine our Santo keeping the night-watch before Our Lady's Shrine, or starting penniless on foot for the Holy Land, than to realize his work for the Council of Trent, or in the cause of education. The life of the Master whom Ignatius imitated, also showed great changes. The simple, picturesque life at Nazareth, with its exquisite domestic virtues and its blessed toil in the carpenter's shop, passed into noisy scenes in Jerusalem, with long mission journeys surrounded by good, but still only partially responsive disciples. Finally, when they were sufficiently trained, the tide of pharisaical persecution rose and seemed to carry all before it. Therewith came yet another complete change, a period of long-drawn agony before the end, the consummation and the new life of victory. The changes were immense, but all consistent, and complementary one to the other.

The last phase of Ignatius's busy life was also the logical outcome of what had preceded. His own training was now complete his ideas matured, his immediate followers so formed that they could take his place in dealing with the outer world. What remained for the founder was to reduce his institution to rule, to elaborate its machinery and its customs, to look not only to essentials but also to accessories, to regulate its great efforts for education, to stabilize works of zeal, to establish precedents. Above all it was necessary to encourage and direct those whom he had sent out on important missions; and so to discipline the fervour of the rising generation that, remaining obedient to directions, it might constantly advance in vigour and energy.

The aspect of the Catholic world on which Ignatius now looked forth, was in some ways consoling, but in many others it was dark, ambiguous, unsatisfactory. The subject of reform was already in the air, though it took a generation or two to gain complete ascendancy. The cry for a General Council, everywhere heard and everywhere welcomed, would soon begin to be realized. One great obstacle was a spirit of quarrelsomeness, the readiness for fighting, the damnosa hereditas  of the rough past. In early times everyone Had to fight for safety; men always wore arms, every gentleman was, one might say, a soldier; and princes, feudal lords, and cities went to war with each other as readily as they jousted and tilted in sport. Hence perennial feuds between houses, countries, universities and trades, and even between religious clerks and orders. At the moment the chief contention was that between Valois and Hapsburg, France and Spain, while such countries as had been overrun by the new heresies were desolated by wars of religion. King Henry VIII had separated England from the old Church and under his terrible tyranny the liberties won by centuries of quiet progress fell, for the time, into abeyance.

The next great obstacle was the relaxation of morality. How easily war and the cult of force corrupt good morals is, in these days, but too well known. Besides this the luxury and the non-christian standards encouraged by the Renaissance had caused grave harm, all the more serious because its worst effect were worked in the higher and more intellectual circles. Not only was no progress being made in dealing with the backwoods, purlieus and off-the-line districts, which were still very large and numerous, and sheltered many century-old superstitions and bad customs, but even among churchmen (where good morale were maintained in words and generally also in deed) abuses were growing stronger, and simony was becoming more subtle and prevalent.

The third outstanding obstacle was wide-spread ignorance. Of course learning had made great progress with and since the introduction of printing but the cry for teachers was now out of all proportion to the supply; and the old simple lore, which had satisfied their sires, was almost an irritant to the rising generation, which positively lusted after new learning. On the opposite side there were also many obstinate conservatives, who regarded with suspicion every advance beyond the a b c's.

Spain was then the most powerful of the Catholic nations, and to Ignatius the Spanish powers were naturally favourable, and this tended to procure for him a rapid entry into those parts of Italy where Spain held sway. On the other hand Spain had both in Italy and, above all, in France, many enemies who were naturally prone to thwart the Spanish priest. With the ambassadors of King John of Portugal, at Rome, Ignatius got on very well, and that sovereign too was most favourable and helpful. By the partly Spanish Emperor, Charles V, Ignatius and his followers were also well received, and found thereby an easy entrance into Western Germany and Austria.

Progress in France was proportionately slow. Ignatius was intent on sending some of his most promising new postulants to make their studies at Paris, and so from the year 1540 a small colony of the younger men were settled first in the College des Tresoriers, then in the College des Lombards. Not long after July, 1542, Francis I declared war on Charles V and ordered all the emperor's subjects to leave France within eight days. Though this decree was soon after tempered by a permit for university students to stay on, half the Jesuits had already fled to Louvain, and the rest, though they tarried for a time, were constrained by a new alarm to betake themselves to Lyons, though they afterwards returned. Still the colony prospered and drew new members, though they were little known except in their immediate surroundings. It was not until the Council of Trent, which began at the end of 15451 that the good qualities of the Jesuits came clearly before the French bishops who attended it. After this Monseigneur du Prat, Bishop of Clermont, offered them his Paris house, The Hotel Clermont, which thus became the first Jesuit settlement in France (1550–1554.). Then difficulties sprang up with the clergy of Paris and with their Bishop, which were destined to lead to a prolonged feud.

St. Ignatius Loyola


The before-mentioned Bishop du Prat having offered the Fathers a college at Billom in the Auvergne, where he wished to found a university, a colony from Paris and another from Rome here opened the first teaching college of the Society in France, in 1555. The previous foundations were what we should call "halls for religious students." So far as, buildings went, this progress was quite satisfactory; but in another respect Ignatius could not feel so well satisfied. The University of Paris and also the Parlement  (Law court) contained many stalwart Gallicans, that is, those who maintained it to be a right of the French Crown to claim exemption from the legislative authority of the Pope on many points. This led to jealousy, and to fault-finding with the new congregation just come from Rome. Before the sons of Ignatius could exercise the full right of teaching in France they must be recognized there as a religious order. The King, who was favourable, issued to them his patents, and Father Brouet, their Provincial, sent them to the Parlement  of Paris to be registered, for when that was done their legal existence would be ratified. But with excess of zeal, good Father Brouet thought he would improve matters by adding copies of the papal bulls already received by the Society, as the strongest testimony in their favour. This was tactically a mistake. Instead of registering the royal document, the Gallican stalwarts fell foul of the papal grants, which, they declared, were contrary to the Gallican Liberties. The Pope, for instance, had made them free from tithes and, in domestic arrangements, free also from the bishop's authority. Appealing to nationalist, Gallican, secular-versus-regular, and other prejudices, the Parlement  now refused to act and raised no little odium against the new-comers.

A smaller man than Ignatius would probably have answered by making a great fuss about the slight to the papal bull; but the Saint acted with perfect calm. He prepared the way for reconciliation by procuring the intercession of friendly rulers and magnates, with persons of influence in France. Again when, not long after, the Parlement  sent four doctors to Rome on other business (amongst them one of the ringleaders against the Society), Ignatius approached them in friendly intercourse and went into the whole question, and they confessed that they had been ill-informed.

The result was that eventually in 1564, when the Fathers obtained leave to open colleges in Paris, the Parlement  was found to be on their side. These troubles in Paris were symptomatic of the difficulties liable to arise while treating with rival conservative corporations in an excitable age, much given to litigation and dispute.

Nowhere did the work of the new order expand more rapidly than in Spain and Portugal, but Ignatius, situated in Rome, a month's post-time from the scene of these evolutions, found serious embarrassment in keeping such rapid changes under proper control. Portugal, under her pious and prudent king, John III, afforded the new order its greatest opportunities and its noblest triumphs. Her colonies in Asia, Africa and America were calling aloud for spiritual assistance; her universities most readily accepted Jesuit colleges. King John had at the first possible moment called for missionaries, and Ignatius had sent of his best, Francis Xavier and Simon Rodriguez. The latter eventually stayed in Lisbon, while Francis, sailing for the Indies, became, as we shall see later, perhaps the most widely successful missionary whom the world has yet known. At all events the Catholics, lately discouraged by the success of the Reformation and the falling away of so many peoples, were astonished and gratified by the extension of the Church over new realms even more extensive than those which had been lost.

Nor was this all. Brazil, and through it, America; Abyssinia, and through it, Africa—rose as visions of promise on the horizon of the new generation, and to all these inspiring prospects Portugal was opening the way.

Ignatius was inspired by a noble enthusiasm for these far-reaching projects, as numerous references in his correspondence show; but even more numerous were his letters about the internal growth of his order in Portugal, though here affairs had to pass through some painful crises.

These arose chiefly from the amiable, but none too firm, character of Father Rodriguez. Full of fervour and goodness, he made an excellent beginning (1540–1546) and soon founded two colleges, at Coimbra and Evora; Vocations multiplied; by 1552 the province already numbered 318. But the training given by Rodriguez did not exactly correspond with that of Ignatius, and especially was this so in the virtue of obedience, of which the Founder made so much account. Rodriguez did not mind debates and intercessions, and he himself often changed his mind. It was inevitable that his system should clash with that of head-quarters. Owing, however, to the great distance of Lisbon from Rome, in the circumstances of that day, it took time before the trouble was located, and more time still before it could be remedied. Being so great a favourite with all classes from the King downwards and having all his province brought up in his own traditions, it was necessary to bring in new superiors from Spain; and as the first of these did not play his cards with sufficient prudence, the affair, by 1551, had gradually become quite unpleasant, and Ignatius saw that Rodriguez must be recalled.

But again owing to distance, the measures ordered by Ignatius missed their mark; the special visitor, Father de Torres, misinterpreted his orders and kept in the background. By now, however, the confusion was growing so great that de Torres had to come forward and act effectively, though rather behind time. Father Rodriguez had to be sent to Rome, and a very large number of the members whom he had moulded, in fact more than half of the whole province, had to be retired from the order. From 318 members the number sank to 105! Never since has the Society suffered so severe a decimation. Rodriguez himself, on reaching Rome, clamoured for an impartial investigation, which Ignatius, knowing the facts and the temper of the Roman Province, dissuaded. But as the other insisted, a commission was appointed, and this, in the end, strongly blamed Rodriguez and declared him worthy of severe punishment. The whole incident was for Ignatius, one of the most painful of his life.

A similar grief was occasioned by Eliza beth Rosel, or Roser, one of the good women who had befriended him at Manresa in early days. Later on she migrated to Rome and made a vow to accept Ignatius's direction in spiritual matters. This gave her a right to call and to write to her director, which in time she carried to excess. Ignatius used to say that she gave him as much to do as the whole province of Fathers. But besides this, having made special friends with certain Fathers, she not only pleaded their cause with the general, but actively took the side of Father Zapata, who had got into trouble with his immediate superior. This was more than Ignatius would endure. He refused to continue her direction and she brought an action in the spiritual court, which, of course, she lost. Nevertheless the separation was a very painful one for Ignatius, and occasioned a special clause in the Constitutions, in which he forbids Jesuits to undertake the direction of women pledged by vow to accept it. To this we shall return in Chapter XIII.

In Spain, the beginnings were poor but prosperous in vocations. Father Araoz, the first member of the newly constituted order to work in that country, made an excellent impression, both at court and in the pulpits, and eventually became (1547) the first provincial. The most remarkable man to join their ranks was Francis Borgia, Duke of Gandia, a great, holy and generous soul, now canonized. But there was also a remarkable movement among the undergraduates at the University of Alcala and elsewhere, who joined in considerable numbers. The province, therefore, was from the first well supplied with good and talented men, and broadly speaking, there were few countries, if any, which would have given Ignatius so much consolation as Spain. There were some severe trials, however, much like those of which we heard in Ignatius's early days. Good and learned men, distrustful of novelty and over-eager to scent out latent heresies, attacked The Spiritual Exercises, and the principles of the new order. Fra Melchior Cano, a noted theologian, and Siliceo, the Archbishop of Toledo, both appeared as aggressors; but the general favour was not sensibly diminished, and when the Jesuit apologias appeared, they easily carried the day.

In Germany, too, beginnings were prosperous. Jesuits attended the legates who were going about to arrange for the Council of Trent, and two of the order, Lainez and Salmeron, were also among the theologians of` the Council. The status and capacity of the order were thus favourably introduced and, the remarkable recruit, Peter Canisius, (Kanys, or perhaps de Hondt, a Dutchman by'' birth, now a beato) extended the order notably. in Cologne and Strassburg and at the Diets of Augsburg and the Convention of Worms.

Trusted alike by princes, bishops and people, Canisius was an unwearied worker in and out of the pulpit, and his pen was never idle. One of Ignatius's last acts was to appoint him (in 1556) provincial for the Rhine countries.

There was also by this time a province in Austria.